Office banter has been part of my working life on a number of occasions, but what I noticed what’s required for banter to work and take hold of the atmosphere in the office is that you need at least 3 and possibly 4 or more people to keep the banter going.
Meaning that the many times that I had an office to myself, or shared one with one other person was not the times that I remember much in the way of banter. The two periods that stand out was when there was four of us sharing the Process Development Team office in Ebbw Vale, and during my time with the Operational Research team office in the Abbey General Offices in Port Talbot.
Banter can take many shapes and form, but must stay light-hearted to work. So when Phil Owens announced that he was about to get married, and a few days later entered the office with the question “guess what?”, my blurted-out response “you’re pregnant” was both hilarious and not far off the truth, because the “guess what?” was obviously that his girlfriend was pregnant, and hence the decision to get married. Potentially this could come across as offensive, but if the atmosphere in the office is open and lighthearted, then it just gets laughed off.
Just like the time when I said “I’m getting old” to which the reply came “no, you ARE old”. It would be hurtful if you knew there was any malice in it, but given the right level of lightness this just becomes water off a duck’s back.
If any of the banter was ever filmed as part of a reality TV show, I’m sure that some people would find reason to find certain parts offensive. For instance, when Karl Koehler became the new CEO for Tata Steel in Europe, references to Fawlty Towers “don’t mention the war” could have been taken as offensive or racist by those who feel so inclined, but in reality most of this type of banter is more silly rather than intended to harm.
In fact, at one point John Madill poked his head around the corner and stated “I can’t believe intelligent people like you can talk such shit”, to which my reply was “it takes intelligence to make up this kind of shit”. Or the time in Ebbw Vale when we all got into giggles but making up sentences where we mixed up the use of metric and imperial units (e.g. a few millimetres short of 2 inches) – it may not sound all that funny, but once you’re on a roll, the insiders can collapse with laughter whereas an outsider would merely look bemused.
The funny thing about it is that most of the banter is fluff, here today and most of the time forgotten tomorrow. But then again, isn’t that the essence of banter ?